Team of the Week: St. Louis Billikens

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Team of the Week: St. Louis Billikens

It’s no longer in dispute: St. Louis is the best team in the Atlantic 10. They proved it this week. After blowing out a good VCU team in Chaifetz Arena on Tuesday, St. Louis went into Hinkle Fieldhouse and knocked off Butler on Friday night. It was their second win over the Bulldogs this season; earlier this month they also blew out Brad Stevens’ club in St. Louis.

The Billikens now hold sole possession of first-place in the conference with just four games left in the regular season. They’ve won nine straight games and 18 of their last 20, a stretch that just so happens to coincide with the passing of their former coach, Rick Majerus. The four-point win at Butler was the first time since January 23rd that St. Louis didn’t win by double figures. It’s been an unreal turnaround for St. Louis, a team that was 3-3 in November with losses to Washington and Santa Clara.

There’s nothing flashy about this group. They defend, they execute offensively, they don’t beat themselves, they do everything that typical sportswriters love to turn into a cliche.

Teams deserving a shout out:

Ohio State: The Buckeyes put together their most important week of the season by knocking off both Minnesota and Michigan State at home. The win over the Spartans was extra impressive when you consider that Deshaun Thomas was just 4-16 from the floor. The Buckeyes still don’t have a road win more impressive than at Nebraska, but they can now claim victory over four teams in the RPI top 25.

Georgetown: The Hoyas took over sole possession of first place in the Big East thanks to their win at Syracuse and Marquette’s loss at Villanova. Otto Porter is currently the runaway favorite to be the Big East Player of the Year and now has an outside shot at winning the National Player of the Year award. This is all happening less than two months after the Hoyas were throughly embarrassed by Pitt in the Verizon Center as they struggled to break 40 points on a nightly basis. What an unreal turnaround.

Indiana: Indiana took over sole possession of first place in the Big Ten when they beat Michigan State in East Lansing on Tuesday, and they all-but won the Big Ten regular season title when the Spartans lost at Ohio State on Sunday. The Hoosiers still have a trio of tough games left, but they currently hold a two game lead over the rest of the conference with four to play.

New Mexico: The Lobos are in the same position as Indiana after Kendall Williams led them to a win at Colorado State on Saturday afternoon. They hold a two game lead in the MWC standings over the Rams with just four games left on their league schedule.

Kentucky: The Wildcats are back! After beating Vanderbilt in a closer-than-it-should-have-been win in Rupp, Kentucky came out on Gameday and knocked off Missouri to pick up a win they absolutely needed to get if they are going to have a chance to make the NCAA tournament. More importantly, however, the Kentucky roster finally lived up to their talent level. Archie Goodwin played his best basketball of the season in the second half against Mizzou. Alex Poythress looked like a lottery pick for the first time in more than a month. Willie Cauley-Stein looked like he could be an adequate replacement for Nerlens Noel. Ryan Harrow didn’t looked scared. We’ll see where this leads UK, but they are certainly in a better spot than they were after last Saturday.

They were good too: Cal, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Temple, Villanova

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Illinois lands important commitment from four-star Class of 2017 guard Mark Smith

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Illinois landed a very important Class of 2017 commitment on Wednesday as guard Mark Smith pledged to the Illini.

The 6-foot-4 Smith was previously a Missouri commit for baseball, but some issues with his arm caused him to look back into basketball last summer. A native of Edwardsville, in the St. Louis metro area, Smith came out of nowhere to win the Illinois Mr. Basketball award as a senior this season as he averaged 21.9 points, 8.4 assists and 8.2 rebounds while becoming a consensus national top-100 prospect.

Rivals rates Smith as the No. 52 overall prospect in the Class of 2017 as he could come in and earn immediate minutes at Illinois next season at either guard spot.

This is a very important commitment for head coach Brad Underwood and the Illini as the new head coach was able to hold off some elite programs like Kentucky and Michigan State for Smith’s services.

Northwestern gets commitment from Boston College transfer A.J. Turner

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Northwestern landed a transfer on Wednesday as former Boston College wing A.J. Turner pledged to the Wildcats, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

The 6-foot-7 Turner just finished his sophomore season with the Golden Eagles as he averaged 8.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. A well-rounded wing who also shot 37 percent from three-point range, Turner will have to sit out one season due to NCAA transfer regulations before getting two more years of eligibility.

With Scottie Lindsay and Vic Law only having limited time left in Evanston, Turner provides a bit of insurance on the wing for the Wildcats for the future as he’s a proven rotation player coming from the ACC.

Oakland’s Greg Kampe hosting charity golf event with big-name coaches

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Oakland head coach Greg Kampe hosted a successful charity event for cancer research two years ago by allowing people to bid online to play a round of golf with some of college basketball’s best coaches.

Kampe is back again this year as he’s hoping to eventually raise $1 million for the American Cancer Society.

According to a report from Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press, Kampe has 11 high-profile names that fans can play with this year.

  • Tom Izzo, Michigan State
  • Frank Martin, South Carolina
  • Rick Barnes, Tennessee
  • Mick Cronin, Cincinnati
  • Chris Holtmann, Butler
  • Kevin Willard, Seton Hall
  • Greg Kampe, Oakland
  • Stan Van Gundy, Detroit Pistons
  • Steve Lavin
  • Fran Fraschilla
  • Bill Raftery

Fans can find more details about the auctions and all of the details here.

The minimum bid is $15,000 per coach. A “buy now” bid of $24,000 is also available.

Each round includes the following, according to the event’s website:

Up for auction will be 11 spectacular packages, featuring a private dinner with elite basketball coaches and VIPs, a one night stay at MotorCity Casino Hotel on Sunday, June 4, and an afternoon of golf on Monday, June 5 at Oakland Hills Country Club on the South Course. The winning bidders and their two guests will round out the foursomes with their selected VIP: Rick Barnes, Mick Cronin, Fran Fraschilla, Chris Holtmann, Tom Izzo, Greg Kampe, Steve Lavin, Frank Martin, Bill Raftery, Stan Van Gundy, or Kevin Willard.

There are a lot of great selections to choose from for this sort of thing, but I can’t imagine a better afternoon than playing golf with Bill Raftery and a few friends. There are some other tempting choices on this list, but that’s the one I would have to jump at.

If you think 137 players declaring for the draft is stupid, you’re probably stupid

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The NBA Draft’s full early entry list came out on Tuesday afternoon, and there were 137 underclassmen listed on it.

137.

For 60 spots in the NBA Draft, only 30 of which guarantee you a contract in the NBA.

And that’s before you factor in the 45 international players that also declared for the NBA Draft, as well as the crop of seniors — Josh Hart, Monte’ Morris, Jaron Blossomgame, Alec Peters — that are going to end up hearing their names called. All told, there are going to be roughly 200 players competing to be one of the 60 people that end up getting drafted on June 22nd, and you don’t have to be any good at math to realize that 200 is a much, much bigger number than 60.

This unleashed a torrent of bad takes on the decision of these players.

And bad may not be doing those takes justice.

Because the bottom-line is this: You cannot paint the decision on whether or not to go pro with a broad brush.

For some players, making money of any kind is something they need to do to support their family, whether it’s what they’ll get with a first round guarantee, the $75-100,000 they’ll get for making a training camp roster to subsidize their time in the D-League while teams develop them or the money they can make in the D-League or overseas. You don’t know what their financial situation is. Maximizing their ability to capitalize on every available dollar they can make off of their athletic gifts may be more important than working towards a degree.

And it’s worth noting here that a guaranteed contract isn’t the only way to make a living in professional basketball. To say nothing of the money that can be made overseas or the number of second round picks and undrafted players that make guaranteed money — which is more than you probably realize — it needs to be noted that D-League salaries are getting a bump this year with the new CBA.

The NBA has also instituted something new called a “two-way contract”. Without getting into the legalese, it’s essentially a retainer worth well into the six figures that they will be able to give to two players that will allow them to retain that player under contract while sending them between the D-League and the NBA roster. In a sense, it creates an extra 60 NBA roster spots for players that have 0-3 years worth of professional basketball on their résumé.

Some players are simply declaring without signing with an agent because they want to get feedback directly from NBA personnel on what their professional prospects. Some will hear that they need to return to school to work on their body, or work on their jumper, or mature as a person to be able to handle everything that comes with being a professional. Others will be told they’re going to make a lot of money by staying in the draft, or that they need to go back to school because, frankly, they are not professional basketball players. Not getting invited to the NBA combine is a pretty good indication of where you stand in the eyes of NBA teams.

Still other players are putting their name into the draft to leave their options open should they be recruited over by the program they are a part of. Take Frank Jackson, for example. If he can return to school and thrive as Duke’s point guard, maybe he turns into a top 20 pick. But what happens if Trevon Duval, the best point guard in the Class of 2017 and a top five pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, picks Duke? Would it be in Jackson’s best interest to come back to Duke when he won’t be playing the position that he needs to learn to play to turn himself into a lasting NBA player?

Jackson, like the roughly 100 underclassmen that have declared without an agent, has until May 24th to make his decision on whether or not he will keep his name in the draft. Until then, he can return to school without damaging his eligibility.

The entire reason that the NCAA changed their rules to allow players to test the waters is so that they can make the most important decision of their lives with as much information as humanly possible. This thing exists for the sole purpose of allowing the kids to have as much knowledge about their options as possible.

And that is exactly what these kids are doing.

So the idea that this rule, or players taking advantage of that rule, however high that number may be, is a bad thing is stupid.